if you weren't there, you don't know
"THAT WAS MY FAVORITE SONG...whatever. My grandma likes us better than Nirvana."
It's 1992 or -3. Probably the Gothic Theater. A cold night, not enough people in the big concrete cavern to warm it up much, but I'm drunk-sweaty and high on live rock. The few people at the show are all dancing wildly, but not making too much noiise--surely not much compared to the Fluid's legendarily loud shows. (Their logo for some years was the Ford logo, detourned to read The Fluid--Volume Is Job #1.)
Their frontman, by far the prettiest and most charismatic figure I'll ever see on stage, spreads his arms and declaims "THAT WAS MY FAVORITE SONG". The crowd doesn't respond. "Whatever. My grandma likes us better than Nirvana." Heart full, I yelled "so do I!" but it went unheard. Two songs later, the frontman, John Robinson, still strutting, graciously offers a chance to pick the next song. Somebody shouts something. Robinson turns cold instantly, snaps "We already played that one" and the band surges into another number. Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a rock prince extending largesse to his subjects when those subjects cannot match songs to titles.
Pick your icon--Bowie, Jagger, David Johansen, Darby Crash--but in that time and place, John Robinson was rock. Still the only rock star who ever made me want to use words like "preen" and "strut" with non-perjorative connotations.
Sometimes I think I'm still in an envelope of that time and place, an envelope created by the band's terrific assault of, and by means of, volume. My ears are damaged, probably beyond repair, now ringing for days after any given show, incapable of parsing muddly slurries of voice into articulated words unless I can see the speaker's mouth.
Everybody in Denver knew--absolutely knew--that the Fluid were the town's best live act, and the town's best live act made a fetish of volume. So all the bands followed suit, piling amps to the rafters and gluing the knobs all the way to the right. I once saw the (rather brilliant) Denver twee-pop band Dressy Bessy1 play in Portland. They were wedged into the back of 17 Nautical Miles, a shoe-box-shaped club, and between me and the band was a thick clot of backpack-wearing bespectacled Elephant 6 weenies.2 Before the first chorus, the sheer impact of Dressy Bessy's sound had those soft coastal kids shoving to get to the back of the room, away from the onslaught.
Volume was the primary exponent of the Fluid's ethic, a position holding that rock and roll was primarily a live idiom, that records were a secondary artifact. The ethic allowed them to tap into apocrapha like the ubiquitous story about playing a bar gig in some impossibly far-flung locale--my memory says Iowa--at which only four people showed up. The band, according to the legend, played "their full set" and at the end? they "sold four records, t-shirts and stickers". This blend of passion and professionalism sank in; I can't imagine loving an artist with any other approach.3, 4
In all the years since, I've never met anybody who had an actual opinion about Denver bands in general, or about "the Denver scene". Your bigger record-store junkies might know 16 Horsepower or Apples in Stereo, the city's two biggest exports over the past decade or so5, but those bands literally never played in town. So the half-dozen people I've met who have any knowledge of the milieu in which I was formed have an image that's wildly discrepant from mine.
This is what it's like, being from the hinterlands. Even in a place as occasionally central as Minneapolis--the weenies in the Hold Steady always say their favorite band was Soul Asylum, not the Replacements. Half of that makes sad sense: the Hold Steady are lame weenies with bad taste; but half of it I can't begrudge. I wasn't there: I don't know. Maybe the Replacements just weren't ever there and you got to see Soul Asylum a million times with your friends and have an amazing night, eight people crammed into somebody's mom's car and something to do other than go drink coffee and wonder about sex. I know that that's what it was like in the shitty times and towns I'm from.
I wonder sometimes about the real hubs--in L.A., was there some band the real heads loved more than Germs / X / Guns / whoever, depending on the era? Or is the whole point of being from a center, a metropole, that your image most transparently projects reality?
Whatever. One thing I do know for sure is that the aging rocker dudes from the Capitals of Rock aren't sitting around writing thousand-word posts about what cats from the hinterlands think about them. Or whether or not they've got an incorrect picture of the Denver rock scene from say 1989 to 1998.
I don't begrudge those dudes their elevated status, nor do I claim I'm secretly an important man. I'm just from a place not so much forgotten or ignored as simply irrelevant. But I loved the Fluid. Sometimes I still do; it's where I'm from.
1How do I know they were brilliant? When asked if they were afraid of getting sued for trademark infringement, they'd shrug and say "We'll just change our name to Pissy Missy". Also they wrote some great songs: extra-ordinary is some of the best pop I'll ever hear. Full disclosure: my band once opened up for them, and they were super-nice to us. They gave us their drink tickets! And my old buddy played with them for a long time.
2Minus the "Elephant 6", that description fit me perfectly at the time.
3I am 100% sure that the Iowa story trope is shared by every touring band of that rough vintage--surely Our Band Could Be Your Life's Black Flag chapter hints at that...
4In all the years since, I've never met anybody who agreed with me about the relative status of records and shows. It's nice to know where I picked that up.
5Ignoring 3 Oh! 3 and Planes Mistaken for Stars b/c: they suck; that name pours negative ideation into my head. I literally want to cut myself when I think about that band name.
Usually I'd work these in a bit more better-like. One thing I want to note: Michael Roberts has been working the Denver rock scene beat for like my entire musical life. His book would probably break my heart.
John Robinson interview
good page on nobody from Denver ever amounting to anything
note: 16 Horsepower
Apples in Stereo
NEVER PLAYED IN DENVER
good page on touring from Denver
barely mentions Andy6
Fluid break up
the Fluid get back together
on the shirt and the touring legend
6I don't want to make a big thing about this: Andy was my friend, and he was the drummer for 57 Lesbian for a long time, he was on their record and everything. He died a long time ago.